by Elous Telma
On a secluded Greek island in the 1950s, an enormous abandoned mine is filled with sea water for a major international experiment in marine biology. It is intended to study natural selection and, perhaps, evolution in a new aquatic ecosystem. However, the experiment and the island are eventually abandoned.
Decades later, a sailor’s photograph of the corpse of a large shark prompts a team of biologists to visit the island. The team discovers unique environments, including an underwater brine lake. The life forms act in ways that affect the fauna on the island as well as themselves.
The new ecosystem is dangerous. How to cope with it? The biologists will need some form of interspecies communication with the sea life and even with a cat that has been stranded on the island. It’s simple in theory...
Chapter 21: A Challenging Plan
J-Cap and Frank went back to the boat. Different theories merged into one. In short, everyone thought the sharks should get out and the jellyfish should stay in. And fast.
A plan of action was quickly put together. It would not work without cooperation from the sharks and Nannion. One by one, the sharks would have to beach themselves onto a canvas that all the team members together would pull across to the open water.
Eiko would be the exception. She would stay on the boat, and she would use it to drag the canvas, towing it behind the boat, as there certainly would not be enough manpower for the task. Nannion, having already exhibited an ability to convince sharks not to beach themselves, would ensure that only one shark at a time would jump out of the water. Meni would act as her handler and would hopefully succeed in communicating the plan.
That was the easy part. The difficulty would escalate as soon as the sharks were in open water. First, there would be a time when one shark would be in the new water while the other would still be alone on the Aquarium side. Then both would be united in the open water. Finally, they would have to be directed, miles away, to L’Atalante, in the vague hope that its environment would suit their survival.
To coax the sharks to follow the team to their new location, the plan was to use Nannion as bait. The sharks clearly had an affinity for her and would follow her even when she was behind glass.
The team would take the forgotten bubble from the center of the Aquarium and drag it behind the boat. Meni and Nannion would be inside the bubble, thirty meters or so behind the boat, and, hopefully, the sharks would choose to follow them. Otherwise, the sharks were about to die a nasty death by jellyfish stinging, like many other fish in the Aquarium.
This was all that they were able to come up with in this limited time. And there were not enough air tanks for all. Nor would it be practical to man-handle two gigantic sharks while wearing the tanks.
Frank seemed generally okay, and a nice summery breeze seemed likely to have cleared the atmosphere sufficiently of whatever substance had been causing his trouble. J-Cap reported that he could not smell any DMS. The team decided that they would all operate tank-free. At first indication of trouble, they would do their best to abort. But they couldn’t suspend operations if the sharks were on land.
The whole team returned to Dioptra. They took the dinghy into the Aquarium and quickly moved the bubble to the shore. They rolled it on the ground, dunked it into the open water and tied it to Taro’s boat. It floated as it had been designed, for safety purposes, to be immersed only by being pulled from below. Some ballast was tied underneath it to make it roughly neutrally buoyant. When the bubble was pulled by the boat, it would be just below the surface.
They brought a large piece of thick burlap and placed it at the edge of the Aquarium waters. This was tied to the boat with ropes, which would help pull it to the open water once the sharks, one at a time, had been transported to it. Eiko took the wheel; all male muscle was needed on the ground.
Meni placed Nannion onto the cloth and talked to her gently, explaining the procedure. She hoped that her tone of voice would get through and make her entice the sharks to beach themselves one by one.
How do you communicate to a cat the plan of instructing a shark to perform a complex task? Meni, inside, panicked but let no one see it. She knew well, as everyone else also did, that the whole exercise would eventually come down to improvisation.
The sharks appeared and were more mobile than ever before. Normally, they were elegant beasts, moving efficiently with minimal effort. But now their movements were jerky, constantly and abruptly changing directions. They were trying to avoid the jellyfish. They had already been stung multiple times and were collecting venom and scars. The mass of dead jellyfish was not far away, but the burlap cloth was placed near to a relative opening in the mass of gelatinous sea creatures.
“We go now!” screamed Taro.
“Nannion, come,” instructed Meni as she placed Nannion on the ground, facing the sharks. “One at a time, Nannion,” she told her.
The sharks saw Nannion and quickly moved towards her. Nannion looked confused. She was agitated and paced up and down as the sharks approached. Meni grabbed her and placed her on the mat, a few meters back from the edge. She patted her and told her to stay there. Nannion did so, with big, open, worried eyes.
The rest of the team took places to the left and right of the mat, blocking the sharks from beaching themselves outside of it. The sharks hesitated and stopped in the water, with their heads up, looking at the cat and the people. It was a big decision for them, too, to go for it.
Then, one of the sharks closed its eyes and its body jerked. It fell backwards and into the water. It must have been stung by a jellyfish. It disappeared under the water. The other shark slowly sank into the water as well. There was no sign of them for a few seconds.
Then one of them jumped out of the water and onto the mat. It did a great job, but some help was needed from the team, who pushed it into the center of the mat. J-Cap noticed it was the female. He signaled to Eiko, and she gently started the boat engines.
Nannion got out of the way while the mat was pulled towards open water.
Eiko, who was piloting the boat, pointed towards the Aquarium and shouted at the team, “Behind you! The other one!” She had noticed that the second shark was also about to jump. But there was no mat and no way to pull it to safety.
The shark hit its underside on the wall of the shore a couple of times, gauging the height. Then it went underwater, possibly to take the big jump or, hopefully to take another measurement. It came almost all the way out of the water and found itself in an awkward position, with its belly on dry ground and its tail still in the water. It must have been rushing to come out of the water, having been stung so much by the jellyfish and wanting to bring himself closer to his mate.
In the meantime, the female shark was in great distress, but only a few meters remained before she would find herself in water again. She started thrashing, and J-Cap tried to wrap the cloth around her head to make her stop.
Eiko was towing the shark decisively but not too fast. Hawkes and Hanson had joined J-Cap to help. J-Cap’s plan seemed to work, but it took all the strength the men had, and all the while they had to made sure to keep their arms away from the shark’s mouth.
Alexandros and Cannavaro sprinted towards the Aquarium and jumped onto the male shark, throwing it back into the water, away from the shore, and then falling into the water themselves.
J-Cap shouted to Eiko to go faster. Within a few seconds, the female shark was dipped into sea water.
Meni placed Nannion, who had somehow managed to keep relatively calm, onto the ground and made sure the shark would see her, in the hope that the cat would convince the shark to stay put. She saw the eyes of the shark and Nannion meet.
J-Cap ran to the edge of the shore. There were massive splashes of water by the shark, Cannavaro, and Alexandros. His instinct was to jump in where the action was, but he chose to stay out and try to haul his colleagues ashore.
The rest of the team were frantically bringing the mat back in place for the male shark. J-Cap watched the shark splashing backwards in the water; Alexandros was on the left, and all J-Cap could see were Alexandros’ legs, mostly above the surface, while his head and half his torso were hidden by the foamy water.
On the other side of the shark, Cannavaro was also falling backwards. The shark thrashed left and right as it tried to straighten its body. With its snout, it accidentally hit Alexandros, who momentarily sank beneath the surface.
Then the shark hit Cannavaro. Bad luck: J-Cap saw several teeth penetrate Cannavaro’s skin. Some cut the skin clean and others pulled it upwards as the shark kept thrashing, giving him another range of cuts. The water started turning red while the mat was being set in place.
J-Cap noticed a set of jellyfish stingers on Cannavaro, around his neck and over his chest. Cannavaro’s body went into convulsions that made his wounds squirt blood, and his face appeared frozen and white.
J-Cap leaped over Cannavaro. While still in the air, he grabbed the stingers with his hand and threw them aside. He fell into the water just behind him and pushed him towards the shore.
Hanson and Fawkes pulled him up. It felt like pulling up a piece of wood as Cannavaro’s muscles were already tightening from the venom. Alexandros managed to get out by himself, having also suffered some jellyfish stings.
J-Cap jumped out of the water and knelt next to the mat. He motioned to the shark to jump. Nannion was sitting on the mat, looking at the shark, calmly, as she had done before. The shark saw her and stopped thrashing. It sank back below the surface.
Nannion moved back. A few seconds later, the shark leaped cleanly onto the mat. This shark was also pulled to the open water, while Taro and Meni tended to Cannavaro. Evidently, there was no severe internal damage from the cuts, but he was bleeding profusely.
More worrisome were the stings. Eiko brought the boat back, and they laid Cannavaro down in it, to give him first aid. J-Cap stitched him up while Taro cleaned the stung areas from any remaining venom. They gave him an adrenaline shot and applied baking soda onto the stings. A few shots of liquor also helped neutralize some of the venom effects. J-Cap’s and Alexandros’ stings were also tended to but were less severe.
Still, there wasn’t a minute to waste. Meni and Nannion hopped into the bubble and started their underwater voyage tethered to the boat. It was a bumpy ride; the bubble did not have much hydrodynamic stability while it was being dragged on their way to L’Atalante, Urania, and Discovery, all close to each other.
Nannion was panting as cats sometimes do when they are riding in a car and aren’t used to it. Meni held her in her lap and caressed her gently, managing to relax her.
The sharks, reassuringly, wonderfully, were following the bubble or, most likely, Nannion. Meni was relieved to see them. Convincing the sharks to follow the boat was the part of the plan over which the team had the least control. Meni gave Nannion a big kiss on the head, and Nannion purred as she kept on watching the sharks.
Above, on the boat, everyone else was also relieved to see the two large dorsal fins follow the bubble. There was some way to go, before they would reach their destination. Meni talked to Nannion, helping herself collect some thoughts while calming her bubble companion.
“Nannion, we may be getting close to saying goodbye to these two sharks.” She giggled as she realized the improbable nature of their circumstances. “Well, I am glad you are with me, in this bubble. I hope they will be okay. I mean, their new location has been selected by a prominent team of scientists. And me. And a cat... We will check up on them.” Nannion raised her head and bumped Meni’s chin, receiving another kiss on the head.
“Nannion, the jellyfish that came up to the surface had eyes. As a biologist, I would say the jellyfish most likely come from the lake. And they are probably clones of each other and whatever organism generates them. That’s just how these things have evolved.
“The ones we see on the surface must be polyps, identical children of one organism. I think it’s the one we saw in the video feed. Something makes eyes, down there. There may be eyes in that death field we saw on the monitors. They may be really large and able to see in the darkness. Perhaps they are meant to see bioluminescence. Perhaps the sharks are bioluminescent; they wouldn’t be the first sharks to have that, you know.
“Can you imagine what those eyes have been seeing all this time? Dead fish, day and night. And the dead lady. Did she bring you here? She must have, right? When we leave the sharks we will show you the footage of the old lady. We’ve decided we want you to know.
“You won’t have to mourn, although I doubt you had enough time to connect with her. Anyway, you won’t have to wonder what happened to her. Were you a kitten on a nearby island, or in Athens, perhaps? Did she find you cute and bring you as company to this godforsaken place? She wan’t being selfish; she couldn’t have known what would happen.”
At that moment, Meni’s cell phone beeped. It had managed to receive a message from Alexandros. “Everything okay?” it asked. She replied immediately. “All okay. Nannion calm. Sharks following us steadily. Meni fine.” The trip went on like that.
Meni talked a lot to Nannion, Nannion enjoyed Meni’s company while watching the sharks, and the sharks kept following the bubble even when Nannion fell asleep on Meni’s lap. Every so often, Meni exchanged phone messages with the boat.
At the boat, the mood was quite good now that Cannavaro was awake and lucid, despite being in considerable pain. But he wasn’t bleeding any more. He did wonder, though, what was going on. He wasn’t confused. He just wondered how they had managed to accomplish so much.
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma